Extreme Makeover: Ravens Defense Edition
Since hoisting the Lombardi Trophy in New Orleans, the Ravens have lost more defensive starters than they’ve retained. With so much turnover, doubting the ability of the Ravens defense to become a cohesive unit for a repeat performance is fair; however, it’s something the franchise is going to let happen. General Manager Ozzie Newsome knew there was going to be an overhaul, but he had a contingency plan in place.
Often overlooked is the fact that Newsome replaced lost veterans with other veterans. Look no further than players like Corey Graham last year to fit the “right player, right price” credo, where Newsome often gets more than he pays for when a player outperforms expectations.
As with Graham last season, the Ravens are hoping to hit once again with an acquisition in the secondary, bringing in one of the most well-rounded defensive backs currently playing in the NFL, Michael Huff.
Following practice on Monday, Huff and I took a break from the ice cream trucks on the practice field to discuss his transition to Baltimore. When I asked him what some of the biggest differences he sees in Baltimore versus his seven seasons as a member of the Oakland Raiders, all Huff could speak about was winning.
“I think just the attitude when you walk into the building,” Huff said. “You can tell it’s just a winning tradition, it’s a winning legacy and [the Ravens] are so used just so used to winning around here that it’s everything that’s expected of you.”
Winning is something that many fans may take for granted in Baltimore, especially given the Ravens’ playoff success under head coach John Harbaugh. On the other hand, Huff knows to cherish each win, especially because it’s something he was unfamiliar with as a member of the Oakland Raiders. After being drafted seventh overall in the 2006 draft, Huff has never experienced a winning season in the National Football League, with a career 36-76 record.
“When you’re here, you just breed success and breed winning,” he said.
Huff got a taste of the playing atmosphere at M&T Bank Stadium last year during a Week 10 55-20 curb-stomping at the hands of the Ravens. Enamored with the stadium atmosphere and fan impact, he’s glad to have Ravens fans on his side this season.
“Loud,” Huff responded when I asked him to describe what it was playing like in M&T Bank Stadium. “Every time the defense is out there, you can’t hear anything. It’s definitely the loudest stadium that I’ve ever been a part of. I’m glad I’m playing here now. It’s on my side now, it definitely makes a difference, too.”
During the game, Huff intercepted Flacco, but that’s something he hasn’t felt the need to really tease his quarterback about since.
“No, I couldn’t really [rub it in] because of how the game turned out,” he said. “We’re on the same team now so I don’t bring it up too much.”
The same goes for punter Sam Koch, who scored his first career touchdown on a fake field goal, and capped the scoring run with a monstrous spike that would make Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski jealous. Huff wasn’t offended at the Ravens running up the score on his team.
“Not at all,” he said. “If we didn’t like it we should have stopped it. I don’t mind it at all.”
Throughout training camp, Huff has taken all of his reps with the first team defense and figures to become the starting free safety, trying his best to adequately fill the ample cleats left behind by Ed Reed. Beside Huff, James Ihedigbo has been running with the first team and rotating with rookie first-round pick Matt Elam.
Huff believes that the safety situation will be played out on a rotational basis to start off.
“It’s a great safety rotation,” Huff said. “We’ve got all three of us play in the box, we’ve got great versatility. I think for us, it’s learning the defense and just how we can adjust on the fly so the offense doesn’t know what we’re doing.”
“Those guys are just hungry and want to learn the game and want to make plays. I give them all the knowledge I have, after playing seven years at corner, safety and nickel,” he said. Then while laughing, Huff said, “I’ve kind of played everywhere.”
Moving across the country and starting fresh definitely throws a kick into your normal offseason plans, but Huff was ready for that challenge, especially since it comes with a chance to win. Huff praised veterans such as Terrell Suggs and Corey Graham for making his transition easier.
“Those guys welcomed me with open arms, showed me the ropes and just welcomed me like family,” he said. “They made the transition easy.”
For the Ravens, an easy transition from losing Pollard and future Hall of Fame safety Ed Reed is to have Huff build on the team’s success and help younger members of the secondary such as Elam, Chykie Brown, Marc Anthony and Asa Jackson adapt to the game speed of the NFL.
“The main thing is that I try to teach them everything I know,” said Huff. “I’m still learning too so we’re just sharing knowledge.”
Even though the Ravens won’t have the big names such as Reed or Pollard in their secondary, the addition of Huff should improve the unit as a whole this season. The Ravens are younger, faster, and hopefully less injury-prone than they were a year ago.
That’s all they could possibly ask for.